Furniture | The Reconnoisseur

No stylish drawing room should be without its own Donkey

A design classic that still has legs

No stylish drawing room should be without its own Donkey

Image: Dan Tsantilis

February 12 2011
Anna-Marie Solowij

I’d wanted one for years: the Penguin Donkey is the bibliophile’s perfect beast of burden, a smart, stylish and practical system for storing and displaying paperbacks and magazines. As birthdays and Christmases have approached, I’ve extolled its virtues, but without success.

This year, though, my hints were finally heard and I received my very own “donk”; it was one of a pair that my boyfriend had bought via a mail-order coupon in The Sunday Times in the late 1960s. He had assembled them himself with the (supplied) squirt of glue and half a dozen screws that completed the job in pre-Ikea days. He recalls that they cost around £10 each.

Lucky me: the Donkey is a design classic and these days originals are virtually unobtainable, in any of their three incarnations: 1939 by Egon Riss, 1963 by Ernest Race (the model I own), and 2003 by Azumi. However, the good news is that reproductions are available, costing £460-£603, from Isokon, and are much sought after for stylish drawing rooms.

Delicate, yet sturdy; practical, yet elegant, their panniers not only accommodate but tastefully display all those lovely old Penguins, Pelicans, Puffins and the like, leaving the centre section clear for back issues of Vogue, How To Spend It and the latest Bonhams catalogue with still enough room for a teacup or two on top.

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